Friday, July 25, 2008

criminalising unemployment

Jobless people are to be forced to work for their benefits.

the unemployed will be forced to undertake voluntary work including picking up litter and cleaning graffiti… they will have to work at least 30 hours a week.


Somebody buy that journalist a dictionary - how is forced work voluntary?

Anyway, Job Seeker’s Allowance is:

Person aged 16-17: £35.65
Person aged 18-24: £46.85
Person aged 25 or over: £59.15


(I love that – the same government that outlaws age discrimination for employers has three brackets of unemployment benefits and the minimum wage based solely on age. Which shops sell groceries cheaper to under-25s then?)

Someone 25 or over working 30 hours would be paid £1.97 an hour. The minimum wage is £5.52.

Given there are already people who remove graffiti and pick up litter but who'll now be unneeded, we can sack them, put them on the dole, then re-employ them on unemployment benefits at a third of the price. Bargain.

Who thinks this will be valuable work experience? What employer would look at a CV and say, 'well, I see you were forced to pick up litter for a month, that's the sort of person we want working for us'?

This isn't even attempting any training. It's a punishment and a deterrent; it's a sentence. It is, in fact, exactly what people are sentenced to on community service. We are equating long-term unemployment with criminality.

The same shake-up attacks Incapacity Benefit claimants too.

In February government welfare adviser David Freud suggested less than a third of the 2.7 million people claiming the benefit were doing so legitimately.


Every single person on Incapacity Benefit has been signed off by their GP, a fully qualified doctor, someone who - unlike Mr Freud - actually has examined them and is trained to judge. Anyone then found to be near to the borderline is further examined by a government doctor.

There are surely some scammers, but to say the overwhelming majority are fraudulent is a huge slur on a serious proportion of GPs and all of the government doctors.

Do we really think they’re all so easily hoodwinked? Or is this just paving the way so that when we hear of the sick and unemployed being victimised and undergoing privation we feel like they've got it coming?

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell says of the new regime

one of the revolutionary things that happen is that we will be using the benefits that we would have spent if people had stayed on the benefit... to get them back into health and back into work.


It’s not just using the benefits that would’ve been spent, it’s plainly forking out a lot more than that.

After a year of claiming unemployment benefits, people will be handed over to private firms... Firms successfully returning people to the workforce for the long-term will receive bonuses of up to £50,000.


That - just the bonus, before the firm's standard fees - is equivalent to over 16 years of Job Seekers Allowance. Do we really think that’s value for money? Or does the government just feel better giving the benefits budget to wealthy private firms instead of poverty stricken individuals?

All of this comes in the same week that unemployment rose again. There are already 1.6 million unemployed and it's rising.

Given the economic forecast, it's only going to rise further, so why the musical chairs? Why are people being penalised for not having a job when there's not the jobs to fill now, let alone in the darker times to come?

If there's more people than jobs and that's always going to be the case, what do we do with the spare people?

We can't let them starve, not only because it's more humane not to make people destitute but because it's cheaper. Penniless people would be more likely to rob the rest of us, and then there'd be the cost of court cases and incarceration.

It would be cheapest to let those content to live on the lowest benefits stay there unfettered. Job-finding help could then be focused on those actually wanting jobs. Instead we’re unshakeably committed to spending a lot of money attempting to force people to do things they don't want to.

If there were full employment there’d be a case for forcing people into work, but as it is and seemingly shall ever be, there are a lot of unemployed people. Making them demean themselves by playing musical chairs for jobs and then treating those who don’t get one same way we treat minor offenders is expensive and cruel.

7 comments:

Jim Bliss said...

Well said, Merrick. Good piece.

One of the things that freaks me out most about all this is how clearly it demonstrates that those in power view people solely and strictly in terms of economic value.

I'm not saying it's ever been different, by the way, merely that it should be.

And what's worse is the inability of these people to see beyond that model of reality. To realise that most of the economic activity currently occurring on planet earth is a self-destructive.

We need to be finding ways to feed, clothe and house people while doing far less "work" (work being literally defined as the expenditure of energy).

You just know it'll sink in eventually. But the only evidence will be a single gunshot ringing out from a locked office in Downing Street.

merrick said...

One of the things that freaks me out most about all this is how clearly it demonstrates that those in power view people solely and strictly in terms of economic value.

Even madder is that even if you share that view, it doesn't make sense. The musical chairs system is surely more expensive.

We need to be finding ways to feed, clothe and house people while doing far less "work"

Absolutely. I remember watching Channel 4 News last summer interview a guy from the Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow. The interviewer kicked off saying 'you want to stop people having their holidays'.

The Camper said that no, everyone should have more holidays; that our overconsumption of energy is unsustainable and ultimately suicidal, that the idea of economic growth being the point of society needed to be jettisoned and we all need to renegotiate our relationship with work and have a lot more of our lives to do the things that really give us a sense of worth and community.

Not what they were expecting, I'll wager.

Danny said...

Hello matey,

Just want to let you know that, once again, you have successfully cut through all the spin and bluster surrounding a government announcement, and laid out the real issues with clarity, righteousness, and beautifully scathing sarcasm.

This was one of those news items that I vaguely heard in the background on the radio, and thought "that sounds a bit crap" without really considering why. After reading your post, I now feel able to defend that position properly against all those people who fall back on the "lazy scroungers" line without really thinking it through.

So thank you. Your blog is a Very Good Thing. You might also have inspired me to fire mine up again in time for the Climate Camp.

See you very soon I hope...

Dx

Paul said...

"everyone should have more holidays; that our overconsumption of energy is unsustainable and ultimately suicidal, that the idea of economic growth being the point of society needed to be jettisoned and we all need to renegotiate our relationship with work and have a lot more of our lives to do the things that really give us a sense of worth and community."

- Pretty much exactly what Robert Tressell was saying 100 years ago.

BMW, by the way, were having a pop at Lexus a few months back, claiming that Diesel is a more honest technology than hydrogen hybrid.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7291323.stm

Your article makes that claim stand up. So why are BMW researching a technology they think of as dishonest?

merrick said...

Paul, I hadn't seen that article. Like so many of the things fossil companies do (BP's solar panels on filling stations, shell sponsoring a competition for renewable energy technology), BMW's hydrogen car is a decoy. It's a way of them saying 'don't worry, we've got a solution coming, everything'll be fine', so we extend their license to operate.

punkscience said...

Dude, I love your work but I have to disagree with you on this whole community service for the unemployed thing. I'm definitely with Johann Hari.

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-yes-for-welfare-you-must-be-made-to-work-872836.html

I should mention that I agree with you completely on the incapacity benefit thing and that the minister is a cockweasel.

Word.

merrick said...

Punkscience, Hari's lament for his alienated friend is indeed moving.

I'm all in favour of giving people opportunities to train so that they can improve their skills and find something beneficial to do.

But making people go for the first McJob that comes to hand under threat of being made to shovel shit for under £2 an hour is inhumane. I hardly see how that would make anyone feel less alienated or aggrieved at the world.

It would only be socially beneficial in the sense that someone's making money out of them. The claimant would feel just as or more shit, and there'd still be the same amount of benefits being paid out, just to different people.

I don't see this undermines any of what I said; let those who can live happy, active and fulfilled lives on the diddly-squat of dole do it and leave the admin budget to help those who really do need and want help.